Author Topic: King Congo  (Read 1101 times)

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King Congo
« on: November 05, 2004, 10:19:21 AM »
By Michael Hanlon

They are 2.2m tall, weigh more than 90kg and are fond of lion for breakfast. They make their home in the darkest reaches of the Congolese jungle and hunt in packs, silently stalking their prey for hours, then breaking cover and overcoming the terrified creature before it has a chance to flee.

Wildlife experts and scientists are baffled: are they simply a more aggressive family of gorillas with a propensity for violence? Or are they a new species - a new great ape and one of the most sensational zoological discoveries for decades? There have been tales of mysterious and fearsome creatures living in remote places for as long as there have been Western explorers visiting them.

Hundreds claim to have seen the yeti in the mountains of Tibet. Then there is the sasquatch, a hairy man-beast said to inhabit the US Rockies. According to legend, the oceans are home to ship- devouring sea serpents and surviving dinosaurs roam forgotten parts of the planet. And, of course, we should not forget Scotland's Loch Ness monster.

Most scientists agree that these creatures are no more than over-active imaginations or the product of science fiction. There are no convincing photographs, no DNA samples, no documented sightings.

But the Congolese super-gorillas (if that is what they are) are different. There is growing evidence, in the form of photographs, videos and even DNA samples, as well as first-hand testimony from a respected primatologist, that suggests an unknown primate is lurking in the jungles of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

So could a giant killer ape really exist? And if so, how could it have been undetected for so long?

Shelly Williams, a primatologist affiliated to the renowned Jane Goodall Institute, has revealed her close - and chilling - encounter with the creatures in the current issue of New Scientist.

"We could hear them in the trees, about 10m away, and four suddenly came rushing through the brush towards me. If this had been a mock charge they would have been screaming to intimidate us. These guys were quiet, and they were huge. They were coming in for the kill - but as soon as they saw my face they stopped and disappeared."

She described them thus: "They have a very flat face, a wide muzzle and their brow-ridge runs straight across and overhangs. They seem to turn grey very early in life, but instead of turning grey-black like a gorilla, they turn grey all over."

Her report has been greeted with some scepticism, but the history of this part of the world shows it would be foolish to dismiss out-of-hand reports of a new great ape.

When sightings of a massive hairy beast living high in the cool mists which drape the volcanic peaks of Rwanda and the Congo were mooted in the late 19th century, few took them seriously. Explorers described a powerful yet gentle, celery-munching ape living at altitudes of more than 10 000ft.  


But it wasn't until 1902 that Robert von Beringe, a German army officer, made detailed observations of the animal which now bears his name, Gorilla gorilla berengei, the famed mountain gorilla. It is not, therefore, impossible that yet another species has managed to remain undetected until now.

Indeed, as far back as 1898, there were hints of another large ape existing undetected in the Congo basin after a Belgian expedition returned from the region with three skulls. Initially, they looked similar to a known species - the Western Lowland Gorilla.

But there was something odd about them. The shape of the brow-ridges and jaw was different to that of a true gorilla, but they remained unidentified until 1996, when a Swiss journalist called Karl Ammann decided to go in search of these "lost gorillas" of the Congo.

He travelled to a place more than 700km from the known ranges of either mountain or lowland gorilla, and met locals who told him strange tales. They spoke of a huge, ferocious ape which was capable of hunting - and killing - lions.

Furthermore, the animals' behaviour towards people was baffling: "Gorilla males will always charge when they encounter a hunter, but there were no stories like that," Ammann says. Instead, these apes would come face-to-face with their human cousins, stare intently in half-recognition, then slide away quietly. No aggression, yet no fear either.

Three years ago, a major expedition was dispatched to the region to investigate. The scientists did not find any giant apes, but they did discover strange, abandoned nests on swampy ground.

Chimps sleep in trees, gorillas build nests on the ground but always well away from water and swamps. Another indication of a new species.

Then Shelly Williams made her recent trip to the Bili region, where the apes were reputed to live, and not only encountered these elusive animals close up but videotaped them, too.

Williams believes these creatures could be a new subspecies of chimpanzee, a gorilla-chimp hybrid, or they could be a wholly new species. There is probably no biological reason why chimps and gorillas could not mate and produce viable offspring.

At present, only eight of these fascinating creatures have been seen by scientists, and none has been captured for study.

Whatever they are, they are fortunate to be living in one of the world's most remote places, and yet unfortunate enough to be threatened by one of the world's nastiest civil wars.

It would be a tragic irony if these creatures, so new to science, are hunted to extinction before they are properly studied.
The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world that he did not exist. - Charles Baudelaire (French and monstrous poet).